Friday, August 19, 2011

J.Crew Has A Cult {you don't say?}

Another article about J.Crew from TheStar about our favorite retailer (click here to read in its entirety):
Jenna Lyons and the J.Crew cult
By Derick Chetty
August 18 2011

The cultish appeal of J.Crew can be traced directly to one woman: Jenna Lyons. As president and creative director for the U.S. chain’s women’s, men’s and kidswear, she is the visionary force behind the khakis, bold colours and stripes peddled by the retailer and her personal style is the object of many style bloggers’ obsession.

It’s not just Lyons’ skill at blending blend high- and low-cost items in one outfit — and over and over again in J.Crew stores and catalogues — that appeals to fashion observers. It’s also her ability to turn classic apparel into the most desired and exciting things to own right now, which has made her one of the most influential designers in America.

J.Crew opens its only international store Thursday, a hotly anticipated 5,000-square-foot space in Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre that will stock women’s clothing and accessories.

The design demi-goddess toured Canada in early August, scouting locations in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton for the retailer’s next store, before returning to J.Crew offices in New York City. ...

As you were travelling across Canada scouting for additional store locations, what did you come to think J.Crew will bring to Canada that is lacking in terms of fashion?
I wouldn’t say there is a lot lacking in fashion. Maybe a niche that is not completely developed. I was sitting in a coffee shop in Vancouver and I felt I could have been in New York, I could have been in Connecticut, I could have been in California.

There are customers out there looking for classic clothes — a great trench coat, a beautiful cable knit sweater — just beautiful, classic, iconic styles. I’m hoping we offer a wide range of colours.

Great colour is what we specialize in, and I was excited to see people wearing colours and stripes, which are some of my favourite things. It’s not necessarily about bringing something that is missing but brightening things a touch.

You’ve been selling a Canadian brand on your website and in stores: Want Les Essentiels de la Vie, a bag line from Montreal. Do you have plans to sell other Canadian labels?
I did a whirlwind tour (of Canada) so I didn’t get a chance to shop and look at other Canadian brands but absolutely we are open to that. We don’t select by origin but by great product. ...

In terms of fashion, what do you think women want?
Women want to look individual. I think the days of looking like everybody else is gone.

There is so much stuff out there now — designers, collections and retailers. How does the average woman navigate this?
We have something in the catalogue called Jenna’s Picks — which was not my idea by the way. We’ve seen a lot of success with that.

I agree there is an intense saturation in the market in terms of information and product and so many ways to communicate with the customer and I do think it’s become overwhelming.

So I think having an opportunity to edit is helpful to people and that’s a reason we work with other brands as well. We want people to say (they) can shop with us because we will help curate things for you so you don’t have to look at everything.

The merchandise seem to be changing at J.Crew. It’s not as preppy. (There are fewer) ruffles and sequins. It’s more cleaned up. Why change a successful formula?
The idea of a formula is a tricky conversation. Fashion is evolutionary and needs to evolve. That was our look and we were doing it and we turned around and we were seeing it in a lot of different places. . . . All those ruffles and sequins and all of it together didn’t felt special and unique and we felt it was time to move on and forward.

It doesn’t mean that those things wouldn’t come back and we certainly have sequins and ruffles but we’ve toned it down and highlighted other things, like a coloured pant or beautiful tailored shirt and those things, interestingly, we are seeing our customer going in that direction as well.

The catalogues are meticulously styled. Are you involved with that and is that part of the design process?
It’s our way of being unique and individual. The catalogue comes out 14 times a year. We can show the same item — the cord pant, jacket cardigan or cashmere turtleneck — and each month is an opportunity for us to take that item that you may already owned or you thought wasn’t for you and show you a different way to wear it.

The styling is just as much a part of our DNA and part of our visual vernacular that people relate to just as much as the clothes are.

Your most famous customer is Michelle Obama. Now that she is a style icon, is she a source of inspiration?
What I love about her, in terms of inspiration, is not necessarily designing clothes for her. It’s the way she connects with everyday people.

She’ll wear a Comme des Garçons sweater with an Alaia skirt with a J.Crew cardigan, showing people they don’t have to have to wear all designer clothes to look beautiful. I love the fact that she is not a Size 2. She is a normal, beautiful, healthy woman and incredibly fit.

How do you approach shopping for yourself?
I have a huge appreciation for clothes. I love all clothes. I don’t discriminate. Everything from pulling things from lookbooks, going online, going to stores. I’m an obsessive shopper.

You’re 43 years old and six feet tall. Should women dress for their age or body type?
Body type is the first thing. I’ve always advocated that if you are curvy, wear sexy dresses; if you are straight, dress like a boy.

I think working towards your strengths and actually not worrying about trends is something I’ve always been a huge proponent of. I think people get tripped up about, “Oh should I wear those skinny pants?” If you don’t feel comfortable wearing those skinny pants, don’t wear the skinny pants. The most stylish women have always plays towards their strengths.

As far as age goes, there is nothing more tragic than someone who is trying to look too young. This country and society does a number on women and the pressure to be perfect at any age is really unbelievably challenging.

When observing women, what are some of the things you frequently notice that can be corrected easily in terms of style?
The No. 1 is too much makeup. It’s the kiss of death for anyone.

The other thing I see people doing is insisting they are a Size 6 when they are really a Size 8. Don’t worry about the number on the clothes. Does it feel comfortable? Do you look great in it? Wearing clothes that are too tight is never good.

And I think people underestimate how important smiling and having a firm handshake can make you so much more beautiful.
Could not agree more with her last line about smiling and handshake! As for some of the other points mentioned in the article... Catalog! I am happy to hear that J.Crew believes it is an important part of the brand. So why, oh why, did they take that feature away on their website? Bring. It. Back. Now. I also enjoyed the quote about ruffles and sequins, because it is true!

What are your thoughts on the article? Any points you found particularly interesting?


  1. Thanks for sharing the article! Interesting read... her point about admiring Mrs. Obama for her "" body doesn't quite jive with the models they photograph for the catalog. Many of them are waaaay too thin. I know there's the push for the company to appeal to "fashion people" to get press in news papers and magazines, but JC needs to portray their wares on models that represent their shopping just a tad more than the runway/couture models that they've been favouring of late.

  2. OT: The Factory website is offering a "Parisien maché" tee with sketches of perfume bottles. I had one year of French in high school, but doesn't "maché" mean torn or chewed, as in "papier maché"? Is there an idiomatic meaning I'm missing? Or did they mean to say "marché" (market) instead?

  3. Interesting article! Thanks for sharing it. So she must have been sitting in a coffee shop on Robson Street then. :)

  4. Great article! She is awesome! I wonder why they did take away the online catalogs... Maybe too expensive to maintain? Or maybe they are reworking and will release it with another feature?

  5. Hexicon, it means it's not safe for JC to be opening in Quebec anytime soon, that's for sure.

  6. I like reading about Jenna. She seems like an interesting person and I admire her career. But I take issue with the opening statement. In fact, it kind of seems like more Jenna wields influence, the less cultish I feel toward the brand.

  7. In agreement with mommydearest. "Design demi goddess"? That's a lot, and press like this seems to make Jenna really push to show that her feet are still on the ground. What happened to Marissa? They don't like promoting her? I thought she took over as the head of design.

  8. I agree with Gigi...what about Marissa? Why can't we hear more about her now?

  9. Nice article! Jenna's going through the press ringer these days, looks like ... oh, to be an icon, a guru ... *sighs dreamily*

    Hexicon, I think you're right. And if you are, this is an especially epic gaffe --- HOHN HOHN HOHN. :P

  10. For people missing the online catalogs, if you own an iPad there are a few apps that let you browse (and buy from!) J.Crew's catalog. Catalogue by the Find and Google Catalog just to name a couple.

  11. I know it's a long shot but if anyone happens to have a 20% off coupon code they are not using could you e-mail me at

  12. Roxy- how do you get j crew on google catalogs? I haven't been able to find it.

  13. Jenna says body type is the first consideration in dressing. I would LOVE it if the last page of every catalog featured JCA's of all body types, heights & ages. Put their wonderful stylists to work to give us inspiration even if we're not tall, skinny and seventeen.

  14. mommydearest, you are so right. I felt more attached to the brand back in 2007 and 2008 when you didn't hear as much about Jenna. It was the smiling models and bright colors and unique pieces that had me smitten. Now they are just trying too damn hard.

  15. Elaine and Hexicon, the word mâché - 2 accents - means chewed or mashed up, and the word mache - no accents - is a delicate type of lettuce that makes a very nice salad. What's on that t-shirt, as Napoleon would say, n'est pas français. Which is why I can predict with confidence that JC won't be heading for La Belle Province any time soon. Grammarians are massing at the borders as I write. Pity, because New York teems with underemployed language majors who'd have eyeballed the sketch pre-production for a sandwich. Or a salad.

  16. Can't understand why they dropped the online catalog in this economy. It gets me into the store to make the purchase. if I wait until the postman finally delivers a catalog, I've lost interest and probably purchased from another retailer. Show me your goods nicely styled as JCrew does in the catalog and I will buy them. Simple as catalog, no reason to go to your store or order online, so no purchase!

    BTW, has anyone found the September catalog online yet?

  17. Justme -- I agree! I love the recent feature they had with several JC staffers interpreting the linen perfect shirt. I liked seeing how it looked on a variety of real women. Ditto for the SAs in the Toronto store yesterday -- I so appreciated seeing the wool Cafe Capris on about 6 of them, all different body types. It was a great way to sell a garment when it looks good on everyone.

  18. I love all of Jenna's tips. Especially Jcrew's emphasis on color. Yes, bring back all the color, love it, and getting rid of all the sequins and ruffles. Over the last two years there have far, far too many. Great article.

    P.S. Does anyone, and please I would really love to find somewhere, know of anywhere besides the JCA weekly exchange to look for or post ads for years past Jcrew items?

  19. jinks, I've never tried it, but you could check out eBay's Want It Now feature.

  20. JcrewJD,
    I have tried Ebay's want it now, there have been replies, but as an example I posted an ad for the Reese gladiators and got a reply for men's sunglasses? Huh? But I have created an ad for the Loafers I want, so we'll see. Thanks so much for the advice. Anything will help.

  21. Roxy
    Thanks for sharing the catalog app info.! I don't see JCrew either, but I do see almost every other company (Anthro, LLBean, Free People, Boden, LandsEnd Canvas).

  22. IRL - I installed the other app (catalogue by the find) and found j crew there. They don't have september yet though.

  23. Thanks Erin! I see the Crewcuts "Fall" catalog is available. I like Google Catalog a lot because it's like flipping through the actual catalog whereas Catalog by the Find is too similar to shopping the company's website without product sections. Anyway, it's all cool. Thanks again for sharing! (I need to start exploring more with my iPad.)

  24. Interesting article, but I TOTALLY disagree with Jenna saying that if you are built like a boy to dress like a boy. No thank you! As a girl with a boyish figure the LAST thing I want to do is look MORE boyish. I want to look feminine! Jenna does not even subscribe to this idea. She has a boyish figure but I don't know m(any) boys that wear sequins! LOL.


Dear J.Crew Aficionadas & Aficionados: Please feel free (and encouraged) to share your thoughts and opinions. :) However, please note that this is still a personal blog. So comments that are considered inappropriate (e.g. obscene, racist, homophobic, personal attacks, rude, and just plain mean) will be removed.

And now back to J.Crew! :)